Written by: Alexandre Silberman and Emma Chaffee
Gov. Phil Scott took office on Jan. 5, after a campaign focused on responsible state spending and growing Vermont’s economy. The Berlin Republican’s inaugural address cited transforming the state education system, along with fighting opiate addiction and building sustainable state budgets as his central priorities.
Scott’s speech outlined components of his education policy, including a focus on improving the system while keeping operating costs efficient.
“There is no better way to grow our economy, and create more opportunity, than through our schools,” Scott said. “If we want a system that draws people to Vermont, we can’t be paralyzed by fear of change… and we have been.”
The governor said investment in early childhood education would be an effective approach at cutting special education costs, while citing higher education as another area in need of investment.
“We can revitalize the entire system, so we no longer have to accept rising taxes and compromises in the quality of our children’s education,” Scott said. “I ask everyone to overcome this fear of change. We must be bold, together.”
He said in his address that creativity and innovation will be key to providing a quality education without financial worries.
“If we are innovative, and are willing to change… we can have the best education system in the country – and perhaps one of the best in the world – with what we already spend,” Scott said.
The new leadership in Montpelier leaves the potential for some major changes in education policy.
Plans to Improve Act 46
Act 46 is a piece of education legislation surrounding school consolidation, and places budget spending caps on districts. School consolidation is the practice of combining schools in order to save money and other resources. Two different districts could become one. 2 different schools with 2 different principals, would merge together, joining under one principal. The policy negatively impacted Burlington, along with many districts around the state after being implemented in 2015. The spending cap imposed, prompted $1.4 million in cuts district wide, including $600,000 at the high school. This has led to reductions in staff and services.
Scott has said during his campaign that he aims to improve Act 46. The governor’s campaign website states his support of preserving school choice in districts that have it in the event of consolidation, while finding ways to let communities keep what they save from mergers. School choice is the ability for a student and their family to decide where they attend school. For example, a student that lives in Burlington could decide to go to school in Colchester.
A new governor means a new administration, new budget and new state education funding, which will trickle down to the Burlington School District. As next year’s budget is finalized, the uncertainty of state funding is putting school board members on edge.
Secretary of Education
Rebecca Holcombe has been Secretary of Education since 2014. According to a new release from the State Board of Education, Scott has directed the board to begin searching for a new Secretary of Education. Holcombe will apply. The next Secretary of Education will be appointed by March 1.